Somewhere on Instagram there’s a meme floating around about never being too rich, too thin or too blond. While that may be a good mantra for a hair inspo feed, it’s not the best rule for your hair. You can in fact be too blond, and constant lightening can cause a dull color that falls flat and brittle, broken strands. These top celebrity colorists agree: The best intervention to bring over-processed hair back to life is to step away from the lightener. Here’s how to get highlighted-hair-gone-wrong back to a healthy place.
Avoid the Overlap
So, how do once-lustrous highlights end up dull and damaged? “When we lighten the hair, the hydrogen peroxide mixed with lightener softens the cuticle, causing it to swell. This allows the lightener to pass through to dissolve the natural melanin in the hair shaft,” explains Nine Zero One hairstylist Cheryl Roberts. “Lightener has no off switch. If left on too long or repeatedly overlapped— it can happen when a colorist overlaps the lightener over every section of the hair during each visit—it will continue to break down the cuticle and cortex, stripping the hair of strength and causing it to become very porous.”
“When choosing a colorist, make sure to see someone who knows color cannot be overlapped,” adds celebrity hairstylist Paul Labrecque. “If you see your colorist pulling bleach through your strands every single time you get your color done, you are in danger of severe breakage. To find someone great you can really trust, look for other blonds with long, healthy hair and ask them who does their color. There are very few natural blonds past the age of 25!”
Get out of the full or partial mindset and think of how you want your hair to look.
Only Touch Virgin Hair
Matrix celebrity colorist George Papanikolas says your colorist should focus on the new growth: “A better approach after you’ve achieved your desired level of lightness is to only retouch the root and midshaft area, leaving the ends out. This will keep the ends from becoming over- processed and brittle.”
“In my lightener, I always use a bond-builder like Olaplex or B3 Brazilian Bond Builder,” adds Roberts. “I also make sure to use a very low developer and avoid applying heat while processing. I’ll also include some lowlights, or reverse balayage, to create depth.”
Have a Post-Service Plan
What happens at home immediately post color can help maintain hair health and keep color from becoming lackluster. “I like to do a Wella post-color treatment immediately after processing to help calm the hair and bring it back to its original pH,” says Roberts. “This evens out the hair’s porosity and makes color last longer.”
“Once hair is highlighted, the ends can be refreshed by using a gloss,” advises Labrecque. Noting that hydration is key to restoring the hair to its original condition, Papanikolas says to alternate between your normal shampoo and conditioner and hydrating ones like Matrix Biolage Ultra Hydrasource.
Space It Out
The experts agree: Color appointments should be scheduled every 10 to 12 weeks, and new highlights should only be placed to accent the hair. “If you space it out with this schedule, then you should be able to maintain dimension,” adds Papanikolas. “For gray coverage, to maintain the integrity of the hair, dimension and shine, it’s better to do a single process every month, and highlight every three months. Also, don’t skip regular trims and limit heat styling, as that can cause even more damage to over- processed and fragile hair.”
The At-Home Repair Kit
Go longer between color appointments—minus dusty or sticky residue—with R+Co Bright Shadows Root Touch-Up Spray ($26).
Unite RE:UNITE Treatment ($36) revives and strengthens frayed cuticles with a protein-based complex of nutrients and antioxidants.
“To transition this client, I added some lowlights (left) and kept some lightness so she didn’t feel too dark as we incorporated a more natural-looking color without lightener. On her second visit (right), I added more lowlights—a shade darker—and toned her remaining highlights,” says Roberts.
“I lifted this client’s regrowth color by four shades using Matrix Ultra Lift in Rose Gold,” says Papanikolas. “I then did an allover glaze with Biolage Plant Based Color in Ginger Copper. The henna base color can be highlighted over and lasts about 20 shampoos. It is especially helpful on compromised hair!”
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